Survey Summary: HWDT 6

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The team for HWDT06 met on a beautiful summers evening in Tobermory and with the forecast looking settled everyone was excited for the 12 days ahead. The excitement built during the evening as the crew ran through some of the amazing species we might be lucky enough to encounter! 

The crew, Emma, Lauren, Charlie and Danny were joined by Yoshi from Japan, Al from Canada, Heather from England and John from Scotland as well as repeat volunteers Edwina and Leanne who were joining Silurian for the 3rd and 12th(!) time respectively with the same level of excitement as if it was their first! 

 Leanne looking out for marine wildlife in perfect spotting conditions during her 12th survey on Silurian

Leanne looking out for marine wildlife in perfect spotting conditions during her 12th survey on Silurian

During the survey, the team covered an impressive 475 miles of Hebridean seas looking and listening for marine wildlife, counting seabirds and logging marine debris and other anthropogenic factors. It was a truly fantastic survey with an incredible 234 sightings of seven species of marine mammals (grey seal, harbour porpoise, common dolphin, minke whale, Risso’s dolphin, common seal and even bottlenose dolphins) and basking sharks. Over 4 hours were spent with animals getting photographs for photo-identification as well as 72 hours of valuable acoustic recordings. The team also counted a whopping 5,630 birds with razorbills (1,367) and shearwaters (1,285) the most commonly seen. 

 A map showing the 475 miles surveyed during HWDT06 03/07-14/07

A map showing the 475 miles surveyed during HWDT06 03/07-14/07

With low winds forecast on day five of the survey, Silurian and her crew set sail for Stanton Banks, a series of underwater granite ridges that rise up from the seabed, 124 km west of the UK mainland! It was an early start to make the 60 km voyage southwest from our anchorage in Gott Bay on Tiree down to Stanton Banks but were soon rewarded  when a large basking shark surfaced nearby, an early morning surprise for Emma and Lauren who were at the helm! This was shortly followed with an elusive minke whale and Risso’s during breakfast, such a great way to start the day! The day continued to get better and better with the smell of “stinky” minkes filling the air as we approached Stanton Banks, seals galore and huge rafts of razorbills. In total, we clocked up 51 sightings in one day and the team counted a staggering 2,102 birds, 50% of which were razorbills!

 A basking shark fin breaking the surface

A basking shark fin breaking the surface

Our good fortune didn’t end there. As we left our anchorage on the beautiful island of Vatersay, the southernmost inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides with white sand beaches and turquoise waters, we encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins. These dolphins are part of the Sound of Barra Community, more fondly known until recently as the Barra Boys... but then they had babies!

 Bottlenose dolphins from the Sound of Barra community, more fondly known as the "Barra Boys" until they had babies!

Bottlenose dolphins from the Sound of Barra community, more fondly known as the "Barra Boys" until they had babies!

We also had an incredibly special encounter with an inquisitive minke whale who gave Emma and Leanne a fright when it surfaced 10 m away from the stern as they were enjoying second breakfast. The minke whale was swimming around the vessel for 45 minutes, rolling on it’s side giving us spectacular views of it’s underside and fluke and was looking at us as much as we were looking at them. It was so special it bought tears to our eyes! Large groups of common dolphins were also seen throughout the survey and even when we couldn’t see them we could often hear them on the hydrophone! 

 Close up of a minke whale during a very special encounter... so close we could only get it's head in the photo!

Close up of a minke whale during a very special encounter... so close we could only get it's head in the photo!

 One of the many common dolphins we saw during this survey

One of the many common dolphins we saw during this survey

Thanks so much to our incredible citizen scientists John, Heather, Leanne, Edwina, Al and Yoshi who joined us on board HWDT06. It was a pleasure having you on board and we couldn't collect this vital data without you.

Thanks also for the generous support of Scottish Natural Heritage who help fund the data collection programme aboard Silurian.

If this has inspired you to take part in one of our surveys, it’s not too late to join us on board this season! We still have a few spaces on trips in September and October 2018 departing from Ullapool giving us the opportunity to collect data from the northern reaches of our survey area!